In May of 2004 Chip took me to Virginia on a Civil War trip. As you may remember, my GGGrandfather was Major William Purnell Townsend of the famous Hood’s Texas Brigade in the War Between the States. We retraced his steps from the time he arrived with Co C 4th Texas until he lost his leg at the second battle of Manassas.
We visited the battlefields of the seven days battles defending Richmond. At Gains Mill we actually walked up the hill where the Fourth Texas with then Captain Townsend led the charge out front of his men. General Robert E Lee had come to Hood and said he had been throwing troops against the Union lines all day without success. He asked Hood,” Can you break their line?” Hood said he would try and he led the charge with his best, the 4th Texas. The Union forces then retreated all the way to the James River. The 4th Texas, with Captain Townsend, overran the union lines and captured the cannon at the top of the hill. Townsend had been promoted to Major after Gains Mill. We found the marker commemorating that event. Chip and I sat on a log there in the woods and read the account of the charge. It was a very meaningful moment that I shall never forget.
We went over to the Shenandoah Valley and retraced the path of the battle all the way to the battlefield of Second Manassas. We walked the route of the charge of the 4th Texas down a slope, across a small stream and up a hill. The morning of this battle, Union Captain Mark Kern of the Penn artillery stood atop this hill watching the Confederate movements when he saw the Forth Texas starting to move. He quickly moved to his cannon and brought them to the top of the hill to bear down on the advancing troops. As they fired into the 4th Texas, many of the charging men fell wounded, but on they came.
Captain Kern’s men were terrified at the advancing rebels and the awesome yells of the Confederates. Kern’s men broke and ran to the rear. Captain Kern, however, stayed alone with his guns and continued to load them and fire at the advancing troops. One of the last shots Kern made tore off the leg of Major Townsend. The men of the 4th Texas were so impressed at Captain Kerns’ bravery they began to holler, “Don’t shoot,” but someone did and Kern fell mortally wounded. When they reached Captain Kern, they wanted to take him to an aid station but be refused saying, “Boys, I said I would live or die by my guns and that is what I am going to do”.
The men covered him with a coat from one of the officers and rushed on following the retreating Yankees. Their own officers at the Bull Run Bridge finally stopped them. When they returned they found that Kern had died. They buried him by his guns and, now the story takes a turn and gives you a picture of the amazing attitudes of the men in that war. The men of the Fourth Texas gathered all of Captain Kern’s personal effects and with one of their officers they went back under a flag of truce through the Union lines and presented them to the Union officers. They told of Kerns’ heroic actions, asking that his story and his personal effects be sent to Kern’s family in Pennsylvania so his family would know of his bravery. It was a very strange war in so many ways.
More information on Texas 4th Brigade and the Seven Days Battle found here.